If you want a charged, sensual shock of a novel, then Heatwave by Victor Jestin should be high up your list.
Originally published in France in 2019 and then translated into English by Sam Taylor and published in the UK in 2021, this was Jestin’s debut novel, written at the tender age of 25.
Leonard is an awkward 17-year-old, uncomfortable in his own skin and more uncomfortable among his peers. He and his parents, younger brother and sister and their dog Bubble are on a camping holiday in south west France and Leonard is not having fun.
He has spent his time trying to avoid the other teenagers, walking on his own around the campsite, attempting to block out the noise of the late-night beach parties and suffering in the oppressive heat.
The book opens on what should be the final night of the family’s two week holiday. Leonard can’t sleep. It’s hot and the music from the beach is keeping him awake so he goes for a walk and finds himself at the children’s play park.
Hanging from the rope of a swing he finds Oscar, another teenager. Leonard simply stands and watches as the rope slowly strangles Oscar and then, in a panic and not knowing what to do, he drags Oscar’s body to a sand dune, buries it and goes back to bed.
There you go, that’s the story up to page 6.
The rest of the book takes place over the following 48 hours as Leonard tries to behave normally but gradually unwinds. During this time he falls into and out of love with a girl, has a gay dalliance and gets more and more confused.
This is a coming of age novel with a difference – think of it as a very dark Bonjour Tristesse (by Francoise Sagan – another book I love).
It’s been a long time since I was a teenager but the language in this sharply succinct novel sent me right back there. The awkwardness, the angst, the different rules that applied to holiday friendships and relationships, falling in and out of love within the hour. Those heady, confusing, startling, intense days.
I loved this book. It’s poignant, thoughtful and beautifully written… and there’s a 30 year-old-bloke jumping round in a pink bunny outfit insisting everyone joins in and has a good time.
Heatwave won Jestin the Prix de la Vocation and the Prix Femina de lyceens as well as being longlisted for the CWA Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger.
Victor Jestin has written another novel, The Dancing Man, published in the summer of last year. I can’t seem to find an English translation yet and my French is not good enough to appreciate it in the language it was written. But I will certainly be keeping an eye out for it in English.
I understand Heatwave is also being made adapted into a film. Not sure I’d watch that but the book is beautiful and brilliant.